Matilde di Canossa

I have spent the past few days south of Parma, surrounded by Matilde, also known as  Matilde di Toscana an extraordinarily modern woman, born in 1045! She is definitely on my top five list of the world’s most underrated women, even though she is some kind of a hit in Italy, her native country.

So what did she do to deserve such recognition? Beside the fact that she lived to be 70 years old, not a small feat at that time. Beside that she married twice, once with a hunchback (she kicked him after two years, and never responded to his pleas for reconciliation. The issue got resolved with his assassination, some say by her!), a second time with a 15-year old Bavarian heir, 30-year her junior. Beside that her true love seems to have been the Pope Gregory VII with whom she had an alleged affair and to whom she gave all her possessions!

Above all, she arranged a settlement between the two most powerful people of her time: the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany, Henry IV (nothing to do with the French king Henri IV). She hosted the Pope at her Canossa castle for a few weeks. Henry IV took a remarkable penance walk to the hard-to-reach up in the hills south of Reggio di Emilia castle. He was seeking forgiveness and reintegration into the Church by the Pope for his attempt to elect bishops and control the Church. “By 25 January 1077, the Emperor stood barefoot in the snow before the gates of Matilda’s castle, accompanied by his wife, their infant son and his mother-in-law. The Emperor remained there, in a penitent’s robe, barefoot and without a sign of authority, despite the winter cold, until 28 January, when Matilda convinced the Pope to see him. Matilde brokered a deal between the men and Henry IV was taken back into the Church.”

She did a lot to unify Italy, certainly consolidated her Toscany-Emilia region. Well done, Matilde! May you gain the fame you deserve!

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